This paper tracks the progress and outcomes of first-time college students over five years, using data from an anonymous sample of community colleges, in order to analyze patterns of student entry into programs of study and the relationship between program entry and completion. The analysis shows that students who do not enter a program within a year of enrollment are far less likely to ever enter a program and therefore less likely to earn a credential.
Many new students arrive at community colleges without clear goals for college and careers. While community colleges offer a wide array of programs, they typically provide little guidance to help students choose and enter programs of study. Furthermore, community college departments rarely monitor the progress of students who do enter their programs to ensure that they complete.
The paper presents a simple method that community colleges can use to measure rates of program entry and completion using data on students' course-taking behaviors rather than declared major or intent, and offers suggestions for ways community colleges can rethink their practices at key stages of students' engagement to increase rates of program entry and completion.